Alain Silberstein could talk for hours about distribution. And for good reason. Companies such as his can no longer rely solely on traditional retail networks. “I don’t have a choice. I’ve always said that someone such as myself, who believes in independent watchmaking, has to make 30% of sales directly to cover our development costs and organise a presence within the market. It’s a simple question: do I really want to put my products in the hands of middle men who aren’t going to generate revenue? We’re the cherry on their cake, the little extra they willingly do without when the going gets tough. This type of distribution just isn’t suited to independent watchmakers, which is why innovation in fine watchmaking now needs to focus upstream of the product, on new distribution concepts.”
Because they aren't targeting the same customers, the products shouldn't be the same.
He goes on to insist on the importance of e-commerce. “The days are gone when we could sit back and ask whether online retailing was an economically viable model, however great an investment it implies. The internet is a part of our daily life and watch companies need to win back a terrain that was first taken over by fake watch dealers, then discount retailers and lastly a handful of luxury brands. It’s clear that from now on these three players will be sharing the same virtual space. Our job is to give the third one the necessary prominence by developing a credible online retail showcase for quality watches. Why not develop a joint venture between different makers who would produce watches specifically to sell over the internet? Because they aren’t targeting the same customers, the products shouldn’t be the same.”
Tailor-made for different clienteles
Alain Silberstein believes the days of “one watch for all” are over. “We make our watches for people all over the world, for people with different tastes and affinities, hence why we need to move towards custom watchmaking. It’s exactly the same as for food. We can’t expect every single person on earth to like cheese fondue. Fine watchmaking is now a global affair and markets aren’t all in the same boat. Some, such as China, Russia and the Middle East, are booming whereas others are stagnating. Personally, I make the distinction between these three clienteles with a collection adapted to each region. Making sales also means getting out there and meeting customers, who want personal contact with the watchmaker. Like gallery-owners, we have to take on this role. To take watchmaking into the future, we have to be there where customers are living their lives, hence the importance of PR and events. It’s a commercial courtesy that we owe to our customers.”
In this context, Alain Silberstein advocates lightweight and why not travelling distribution structures. “The trick is to create a universe with the brand at the centre. This is something Hermès has done very successfully with its new Paris store. But we need to go one step further. If I were to imagine a structure for, say, Tokyo, it would be an Alain Silberstein café or wine bar with a specific visual identity for the brand. I’d turn it all into a pop-up store inside a converted container. In the future, we will have to invest as much in commercial innovation as in product innovation.”